Murray wore a coronavirus-conscious mask on his way to the unusual, no-spectators setting and avoided handshakes when he left. In between, the three-time Grand Slam champion offered his usual mix of hustling and muttering.
Britain's Andy Murray has made a triumphant ATP comeback, defeating Frances Tiafoe 7-6 (8/6), 3-6, 6-1 in his first match of 2020 at the Western and Southern Open.
The 33-year-old Scotsman advanced in hot and humid conditions on Saturday to a second-round date with German fifth seed Alexander Zverev at the Covid-19 quarantine bubble that will also be used for the US Open, which starts on August 31.
Murray won the 2012 US Open as well as the 2013 and 2016 Wimbledon titles plus the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medals.
'Could definitely improve'
Former world number one Murray, now ranked 129th, suffered a pelvic injury at the Davis Cup last November and that, combined with the pandemic shutdown, kept him out of competition until he faced 22-year-old Tiafoe in a meeting of wildcard entrants.
"I thought I moved well today," Murray said. "That was probably the thing I was most happy with and probably the thing I was most apprehensive about going into the match.
"My tennis could have been better. I did some things well at the end, but I could definitely improve in terms of my game."
Murray broke Tiafoe for a 2-0 lead in the third set when the American missed a volley, broke again to 5-1 with a backhand return winner, and held at love to finish matters after two hours and 28 minutes.
Murray was the 2008 and 2011 winner in this Grand Slam tuneup event, usually staged in Cincinnati but moved to New York due to the Covid-19 pandemic that wiped out much of the season, including Wimbledon.
Tiafoe, ranked 81st, forced the only break point of the first set in the 11th game with a lob winner but Murray dismissed it with a service winner up the middle and held to 6-5 on a second-serve ace.
In the tie-breaker, Tiafoe jumped ahead 5-2 before Murray roared back, saving a set point to reach 6-6 when Tiafoe sent a backhand wide and taking the set two points later on a passing forehand winner.
Tiafoe, whose only ATP title came at the 2018 Delray Beach Open, saved a breakpoint with an ace in the fifth game of the second set and took the first break of the match for a 5-3 lead on a backhand drop volley winner before holding to force a third set.
The match was played on the National Tennis Center Grandstand court, the event's feature court with no matches until the US Open scheduled at Arthur Ashe Stadium or Louis Armstrong Stadium.
ATP back in action
Other men advancing Saturday included Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, who defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-1 in the day's opening match -- the first ATP contest since the tour was shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic in March.
When Basilashvili buried a forehand in the net on match point, Auger-Aliassime was at something of a loss, with no crowd to acknowledge the moment.
"I actually threw a ball at my coach," said Auger-Aliassime, who usually tosses a ball to a fan after a win.
He said the unusual quiet on the court made him even more alert to any stray noise.
"The smallest noise or the smallest movement was even more of a distraction because there was no noise and you just heard every noise or every movement around," he said. "It was weird."
Maria Sakkari beats Coco Gauff
On the women's side, Greek 13th seed Maria Sakkari defeated the US teen Coco Gauff 6-1, 6-3 in 64 minutes. Sakkari could face 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams in the third round.
Sakkari said she didn't find the experience of playing in a large stadium with no fans was less off-putting than she expected.
"I thought it would be worse," she said.
"Maybe on like a bigger match, like maybe a semi-final or final it's going to feel weird.
"But today I was already pumped by myself, and that was more than enough."